LAWLESS: The Supposed ‘Less-Lethal’ Weapons Police Use Against Citizens Blind, Maim and Kill. Victims Say Enough Is Enough.

“No regard for public safety.”

By Donovan Slack & Dennis Wagner of USA TODAY and Jay Hancock, KHN and Kevin McCoy, USA TODAY
Kaiser Health News (7/24/20)

There’s a gap in Scott Olsen’s memory for the night of Oct. 25, 2011.

The Iraq War vet remembers leaving his tech job in the San Francisco Bay Area and taking a BART train to join an Occupy Oakland protest against economic and social inequality.

He remembers standing near protesters who faced off with Oakland police officers bristling with riot gear.

He remembers being carried away by other protesters.

But not the moment when a “bean bag” round fired from an officer’s 12-gauge shotgun crashed into the left side of his head, fracturing his skull and inflicting a near-fatal brain injury that forced him to relearn how to talk.

In 2004, in Boston, a college student celebrating a Red Sox victory was killed by a projectile filled with pepper-based irritant when it tore through her eye and into her brain.

What happened to Olsen was not unique or isolated. Time and again over the past two decades ― from L.A. to D.C., Minneapolis to Miami ― peace officers have targeted civilian demonstrators with munitions designed to stun and stop, rather than kill. As many as 60 protesters suffered head wounds during recent Black Lives Matter events, including bone fractures, blindness and traumatic brain injuries. [Olson now lives on a farm in Wisconsin. — Editor’s Note]

For years, activists and civil libertarians worldwide have urged police to ban less-lethal projectiles from use for crowd control. The United Kingdom ceased using them that way decades ago.

But an investigation by USA Today and KHN found little has changed over the years in the United States.

Beyond the Constitution and federal court rulings that require police use of force to be “reasonable,” there are no national rules for discharging bean bags and rubber bullets. Nor are there standards for the weapons’ velocity, accuracy or safety. Congress and state legislatures have done little to offer solutions.

While locations and demonstration types vary, a pattern has emerged: Shooting victims file lawsuits, cities pay out millions of dollars, police departments try to adopt reforms. And, a few years later, it happens again. …

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“Nothing has changed,” said attorney Elizabeth Ritter, 59, one of several people shot in the head by an impact munition at a 2003 protest in Miami. A video later surfaced showing police supervisors laughing about her shooting. “It’s fairly sickening to me. We have a systemic, deeply ingrained problem.”


‘Less-Lethal’ Weapons Targeting Peaceful Protesters Are Actually Lethal

All Things Considered / NPR (7/31/20)

NPR’s Ailsa Chang speaks with Jay Hancock of Kaiser Health News about an investigation into the use of so-called less-lethal munitions — such as rubber bullets and bean bags — at protests.

AILSA CHANG, HOST: Rubber bullets, beanbags – these are some of the everyday terms used to describe munitions that can, in fact be, very dangerous, items that have been used to disperse recent protests across the country. An investigation by USA Today and Kaiser Health News shows that so-called less-lethal munitions have been seriously injuring people for decades, even killing them. Jay Hancock worked on that investigation, and we started by talking about what kinds of projectiles police have been firing into crowds at recent demonstrations.

JAY HANCOCK: You read about the term rubber bullets a lot, which is kind of a casual catch-all term to describe these things, which really isn’t super accurate. Some of them, they’re essentially paintballs with chemical irritant – pepper chemicals – inside them, and they burst upon impact. Some of them are called beanbag rounds, which are shot out of a 12-gauge shotgun. And instead of birdshot coming out of the shotgun, it’s all encased in a bag which comes out and hits you with a big thwack and can really injure as well. Even these things called sponge rounds or foam rounds, they sound like they’re almost toys, but they can really seriously injure people.

CHANG: And what are these projectiles normally designed for? Like, are police using them correctly?

HANCOCK: It’s unclear what they ought to be used for because there’s no guidelines. That’s one of the things we found. But there’s a general understanding among law enforcement. It’s that these projectiles should not be used for crowd management, i.e., riot control. They’re generally sold as ways to deal with uncooperative individual people who are breaking the law as a way to bring people under control that is less than lethal and does not involve lead deadly bullets.

CHANG: When did police start using these kinds of tools to disperse the crowds? Do we know?

HANCOCK: They’ve been around for decades. And they sort of picked up popularity in the early 2000s. The scale with which we’ve seen these projectiles used – the law enforcement experts that we talked to called the use now this year in 2020 unprecedented.

CHANG: Does anyone have a theory for why using these tools, the popularity of using these tools has spiked so intensely?

HANCOCK: I would say it’s two things. One, there’s been so much justifiable focus on the deadly use of force by police that anything less than deadly use of force sort of doesn’t get paid attention to. The other reason is just what people describe to us as a severe lack of training among police forces and law enforcement in general in crowd management techniques. It’s not something that the average officer has to deal with every day. And when they do have to confront situations with large numbers of people, which it must be said sometimes pose a danger to police — there have been incidents where people throw bricks at cops and pose a danger to cops — this is the tool they have at hand. And this is the tool that they have in a situation where they haven’t been trained well to handle hundreds of potentially hostile people. …

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